We know it’s a challenge and we face it at Social Enterprise UK too: we’re a small-to-mid-sized social enterprise and while we report on our social impact each year, we struggle at times to make best use of the information to inform our work and to make our services better.
This is where the content and support of the Pathway strand of the programme comes in. We’ve been testing out three main areas to help charities and social enterprises get better at being able to manage their impact: Planning, Culture and Data. Each of these interrelate and interact with each other, but making progress on each is crucial to embedding impact at the heart of organisations’ strategies and operations. It has been noticeable to me in the workshops and events we have run so far that understanding different types of data, and how to collect and use it, has been particularly welcome. As my colleague Ben Carpenter at Social Value UK has written, many organisations are doing it but not calling it impact management.
Building a culture of impact management is arguably a harder nut to crack, though, and is a longer-term game. When we ask groups who they think should ‘own’ or have responsibility for impact management in their organisation, we get a wide variety of answers: ‘me’, ‘everyone’, ‘the Chief Exec’, ‘the board’, ‘that guy in marketing’ and so on. There is no right answer to the question, of course, but building a culture where impact is taken seriously requires leadership, buy-in, commitment and a shared understanding of why it is important and how it can be useful to everyone in the organisation. None of which happens overnight.
The other thing we have noticed at our events across the country is the relationships and networks that start to build in our open, honest discussions and how valuable it is to have variety (of people, of sectors, of types of organisations) in the room. It undoubtedly makes for better information exchange and insight and we think a network can also help keep momentum going when tackling long term challenges like changing culture. Part of our aim on the Pathway strand is to test how we can facilitate this peer learning and we have been encouraged by the appetite for this with the groups we have brought together so far.
**So what next? **We want to work further with our regional cohorts of organisations: going more in-depth on practical advice into key areas, and encouraging learning, sharing and reflection amongst peers across a geographical area. Our peer events are kicking off in Liverpool today and we hope over the coming months they will deliver not only practical, useable learning on impact management, but also a set of connections and people who can continue to help each other long after the programme has ended.